Watched Over

Just last week our church family lost a cherished member, a relatively young man who leaves behind a loving wife and children, and literally hundreds of friends who felt loved by him, and loved him in return. His passing leaves a void in many hearts that only God in his mercy and comfort can fill.

Our friend was a singer—a soloist in every respect, but one who felt just as “at home” in the collective confines of the choir as he did on the leading edge of a concert platform. He was that kind of humble. He could sing Bach or bluegrass, highbrow or hoedown. That choice didn’t matter to him. He loved it all, and he sang in a way that helped us love it all. His heart was in his voice. He was one of those all too few singers whose gifts capture what a few poetic lines of Longfellow convey:

            God sent his singers upon earth

                 With songs of gladness and of mirth

            That they might touch the hearts of men

                 And bring them back to heaven again.

We first met fifteen years ago when our choir was preparing a Palm Sunday concert of Schubert’s magnificent Mass in E Flat. Part of the “Credo” of that stunning work unusually calls for two tenor soloists and one soprano to interface with the whole choir. One tenor had already been chosen. Since he was a member of the renowned United States Army Chorus, I simply asked him if he would bring along one of his colleagues to join him—one whom he felt would closely complement his own voice.

Little did I know then how their voices would mesh and meld in a whole that was far greater than the sum of its parts. One simply emerged barely distinguishable from the other, eventually joining with the soprano in striking trio to convey the musical and theological impact of our Lord’s incarnation”

Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine. ET HOMO FACTUS EST.

And he was made flesh by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary,

and became fully human.

This central Christian doctrine was thus tenderly and memorably proclaimed.

Nor in those moments did I know that such a fruitful fifteen-year partnership and friendship were being inaugurated. He became part of our larger church family that very night, a follower of Jesus Christ who came to think dearly of our congregation as his church home. This is why his loss is such a loss. Those who love deeply hurt the most.

All this got me to thinking about Psalm 116.  Some of this psalm says,

            I love the Lord because he has heard my voice

                 and my pleas for mercy.

            Because he inclined his ear to me,

                 therefore I will call on him as long as I live…

            What shall I render to the Lord

                 for all his benefits to me?

            I will lift up the cup of salvation

                 and call on the name of the Lord.

            I will pay my vows to the Lord

                 in the presence of all his people…

            Precious in the sight of the Lord

                 is the death of his saints…

            I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

                 and call on the name of the Lord.

            I will pay my vows to the Lord

                 in the presence of all his people,

                 in the courts of the house of the Lord,

                      in your midst, O Jerusalem.

            Praise the Lord!

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Here, “precious”not only conveys the sense of something “highly valued,” but also of someone “carefully watched over:”

            The One watching over Israel slumbers not nor sleeps.

Allen Ross reminds us that the Lord cares intensely about the death of his saints. It is never something the Lord considers cheap. God does not let his people die for no reason.[1]

There is always an element of praise in the Psalms, even in psalms of lament, even when we are pouring out our fearful or our broken hearts to God. The deliverance of a saint from mortal danger in Psalm 116 leads ultimately to God’s praise and to edification of all his saints for ages to come—even us today. The psalm thus ends with a “Hallelujah!”

It is because God “carefully watches over” us that even at the grave we still make our song: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Michael Denham

[1] Allen Ross, “Psalms,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985), 877.

Author: expositionalvision

Michael Denham has served many years as Director of Music Ministries at The National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.

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